Most people are familiar with both Kickstarter and Indiegogo–the main crowd-funding and fundraising platforms used by entrepreneurs, non-profit organizations, students, filmmakers, activists, travelers, and, apparently, people making potato salad. Because of the high overhead costs it takes to make most films and documentaries, independent efforts for these types of video journalism projects are often seen on crowd-funding sites, or searching for funding via the internet in other locations.
However, Beacon Reader, takes this idea to the other side of the journalism world–the writers. Reporters with passion and interest in a particular issue or topic can take the time–and the Internet’s money–to pursue these interests, do investigative reporting, and produce content that isn’t regulated by an editor, corporation, or large organization that puts the brakes on whatever they’re unearthing. I think it’s pure genius.
Essentially, Beacon is helping to keep the blogosphere free of clutter. Rather than each of these writers creating blogs focused on each topic of their interest, filling up cyberspace with posts and attempts to amass content and gain an audience, loyal followers, and subsequent ad revenue to fund further reporting, they can ask for money upfront to tackle the projects that really matter to them. And, if the topics are relevant enough that they matter to other people too, it’s a win-win situation; writers get funding, and subscribers get honest, well-formulated content on issues they care about.
The only flaw I see in the system is a lack of reach; if the only way to access Beacon content is by pledging support to a writer, the content is staying within an audience that already cares. Shouldn’t the point of funding an producing quality journalism be to spread knowledge–especially new and groundbreaking knowledge that can impact society–as far and wide as possible? Our job as journalists is not just to tell stories, but to tell stories that lead to a greater public understanding of the world around us, and to encourage consciousness of the reality we live in, rather than to just exist.
That being said, Beacon is onto something. As the site and model of crowd-funded journalism grows, perhaps it can improved to disseminate its content to the general public. And, it’s worth wondering if the next version of charity gift-giving (when you ask for donations to a certain charity or non-profit rather than birthday, graduation or holiday gifts), will be the gift of supporting a writer investigating something like Latin American supply chains’ effect on locals, the battle for net neutrality, climate change, or Egypt’s refugees. Now, as the holiday season approaches, the hardest decision will be picking which journalist to fund.